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Campaign Finance Disclosure

The Supreme Court is now weighing a case that could put an end to limits on individual campaign contributions. 

Backers of the idea argue that as long as the donation is disclosed, the risk of corruption is minimal, but another view has emerged from the University of Virginia Law School.

By law, individuals can give no more than $48,600 per election cycle to federal candidates, but businessman Shawn McKutcheon objects.  He says it’s his First Amendment right to give as much as he wants to as many candidates as he likes. 

Supporters argue that the law requires disclosing donations, and that should keep politicians from selling their votes, but Michael Gilbert, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia, says the opposite could also be true.  Campaign finance disclosure may actually promote corruption.

“If you’re the politician, and I’m the wealthy individual who wants to engage in a corrupt deal with you, we can’t sign a contract for obvious reasons.  Illegal contracts are not enforceable, so we have to rely on trust.  I have to be confident that if I give you the money, you’re going to deliver the vote later on," says Gilbert.

Open records of campaign donations make that easy.

“If I can look at a long record of who has supported you and whether you’ve then done them some favors, I suddenly trust you a little bit more, and likewise if you can look at a disclosure record which reveals that I systematically support politicians who vote the ways I like, then suddenly you can trust me a little bit.”

So if campaign disclosure doesn’t not prevent political corruption in all cases, what’s the alternative?  Gilbert says public funding of campaigns or stricter contribution limits may be the answer.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief